The wait is over; we have a new Pope. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, no longer Cardinal of Munich but instead Bishop of Rome and Pope of the Catholic World.
It was a special moment for me last night to watch on TV the white smoke emerging from the Sistine Chapel and then hear the tolling of The Bells of St. Peter. Well, 'hear' isn't exactly the appropriate word since the noise of the crowd rendered it almost inaudible, but just watching the bells tolling was enough to send shivers of excitement down my body.
This was followed by the announcement of the new pontiff's old Christian name in Latin followed by the new name he has chosen for himself. Here there was another rather freakish surprise in store for me. Not so much in the fact that the new pope was Cardinal Ratzinger but in the name he had chosen. For as I had been watching the tolling bells, I was speculating as to what name the new pope would choose for himself; and somehow the name Benedict came to my mind. It means "blessed" in Latin, and I knew there had been a few popes named Benedict in the past, but I was unaware of exactly how many. Or when the most recent had reigned. So I couldn't know just which roman numeral would follow the new pope's name, but I somehow knew it would be Benedict __.
So you can imagine my surprise when Cardinal Estivez announces in Latin that the pope shall now be known as Benedict XVI. You could have knocked me over with a feather. I'm still not exactly sure of what this all means, but what I do know is this - I knew the name the pope would choose, in advance! And it's not like I was going through possible choices and Benedict was just one of them. Benedict was the only name I considered.
As for the pope himself, it's clear that Benedict XVI has a similar outlook on doctrinal matters as John Paul II did. What is not certain as yet is whether he will be able to put forth his viewpoint with the same charisma as his predecessor. JP II won the hearts of even those who may not have always agreed with him (me, for instance). I'm not sure Benedict XVI will be as successful in the same. Only time will tell. It would be extremely unfair, though, to gauge the success of the new papacy by comparing it with previous ones.
I do not agree with the Vatican on a few issues. I was in many ways hoping for a pope who would represent a newer, less rigidly orthodox ideology. I can now only hope that Ratzinger mellows down in his stand on matters like birth-control, abortion and homosexuality, after being elevated to the highest office in Catholicism.
For me personally, things feel very weird now. The only pope I ever knew was JP II, and it will be strange to hear the words "the Pope" and know they do not refer to him any more. I can only compare it to what most people in Britain will feel when Queen Elizabeth II passes away. It'll be weird to have a new monarch when you've grown up only ever knowing someone else as queen.
One thing we can be fairly certain of is that this will not be as long a papacy as the last one. Let's also hope and pray that it isn't as short a papacy the one preceding the last one!
(The author is an ex-Catholic but current non-believer)
Wednesday, April 20, 2005